HOMS, Syria -
The presence of Arab League monitors in Syria has re-energized the anti-government protest movement, with tens of thousands turning out over the past three days in cities and neighborhoods where the observers are expected to visit. The huge rallies have been met by lethal gunfire from security forces apparently worried about multiple mass sit-ins modeled after Cairo's Tahrir Square.
Yesterday, security forces opened fire on tens of thousands protesting outside a mosque in a Damascus suburb and killed at least four. The crowd had gathered at the mosque near a municipal building where cars of the monitors had been spotted outside.
Troops fired live ammunition and tear gas to disperse large protests in several areas of the country, including central Damascus, killing at least 26 people nationwide, activists said. A key activist network, the Local Coordination Committees, said that it has documented the names of 130 people, including six children, who have died since the Arab League monitors arrived in Syria Monday night.
The ongoing violence, and new questions about the human-rights record of the head of the Arab League monitors, are reinforcing the opposition's view that Syria's limited cooperation with the observers is nothing more than a farce for President Bashar Assad's regime to buy time and forestall more international condemnation and sanctions.